04/11/2010

Pakistani cricket was caught on a sticky wicket this summer, with match fixing claims and counter claims. All About Brands’ Chairman Allan Biggar looks at the steps which the Pakistani Cricket Board and the International Cricket Council need to take to restore the sport’s standing.

Last month’s International Cricket Council awards ceremony in Bangalore is an annual event to celebrate the best of a sport which leaves much of the world baffled. But the issues that have torn the game apart this summer cast a large shadow over proceedings in Bangalore last month, and look set to have much broader political ramifications.

The old adage that ‘reputations take years to build but only moments to destroy’ could not have been better placed when the spot-fixing allegations surrounding three members of the Pakistani national cricket team migrated from a media storm to a hurricane in the space of a week. It was an event that not only rocked world cricket, but reached the upper echelons of the Pakistani Government — and has left Pakistani cricket at a cross roads.

Corruption is nothing new to the world of cricket. High profile scandals involving cricketers from South Africa, Pakistan and India have regularly hit the headlines.

Putting aside the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) failure to deal with match fixing across the game, it is the Pakistani Cricket Board (PCB) that appears to have learnt little from history.

At a time when the 24 hour media news cycle can rip apart an organisation’s reputation in a matter of hours, the crisis of Pakistani cricket offers a prime example of how a well thought out and trialled crisis communication strategy is integral to any organisation - whether in sport or business.

Where most industries and organisations would have investigated claims of corruption, PCB appears as ineffective in addressing these latest allegations as previous ones. Now some serious soul searching must be done.

The Qayyum inquiry in 1999 followed the team’s humiliating destruction at the hands of Bangladesh. It handed out life bans to Salim Malik and Ata-ur Rehman, only to which were later rescinded. Other investigations have failed to root out corruption due to the fudging of the process and the reversal of life bans for bizarre reasons such a “wedding gift” as was bestowed on cricketer Shoaib Malik. This has made the whole disciplinary process toothless. This ineffective system for disciplining players has the potential to permeate to the new era of young Pakistani players who could be targeted by criminal betting gangs in the future only helping to perpetuate the current situation.

So how does the PCB navigate its way out of this maelstrom? Well admitting there’s a problem within Pakistani cricket is a start. This is the crux of the problem and can only be addressed from the top, and the higher the better. The PCB Chief Patron, President Zardari of Pakistan, could play a significant part in that rebuilding process. Whilst his title is honorific it still wields sufficient clout as he appoints the Chairman of the PCB, currently the widely unpopular and ineffective Ifaz Butt.

Tackling the problem head on requires a public statement by President Zardari promising swift and thorough action. This should be followed by the quick resignation of Ifaz Butt who has failed for the past two years to clean up the national game. His retraction last week of claims that England’s players were also involved in match-fixing has done little to remediate his diminished standing in the eyes of international cricket.

The appointment of a new interim Chairman with the remit of cleaning up the game within a year would send a clear signal that Pakistani cricket is under new management and moving.

This first stage could be taken within days. It would require some tough decisions on the part of President Zardari, but the longer he holds off the more damage it does for the standing of Pakistan and its cricket. The next stage is to engage with the stakeholders of the Pakistani cricket team, most importantly the fans. They have suffered the most from this series of scandals, left disillusioned with what still is a very talented team.
Re-engaging with them is vital for the team to re-enter world cricket a reformed character, and will no doubt help serve Zadari politically as he tries to address his own tarnished image following the mishandling of Pakistan’s devastating floods this summer.

This is something the PCB cannot do alone and must involve the ICC which will be mutually beneficial to both parties; the ICC can portray Pakistan as a success story in their quest to rid the game of corruption whereas the PCB benefits from increased revenues from TV and sponsorship rights that follow successful teams.

Mohammed Asif, Mohammed Amir and Salman Butt will now face the British legal system to establish whether they deliberately sought to spot-fix matches. They not only face the prospect of prison but will face also being banned from the sport for life.

What this scandal has demonstrated is the ability of one story to damage not only the careers of three talented cricketers, but damage a national team’s reputation on the world stage - one that has been built over years of success and comes off the back of some great teams of the past.

Restoring that pedigree will take time and will be hard won on the cricket field. Off the field - restoring the character of Pakistani and world cricket will take just as long, but from an organisational level being seen to act early on and in a decisive manner is crucial in the rebuilding process.


All About Brands (AAB) is a group of international companies collectively dedicated to building business value for clients through the effective development and management of their brands. To find out more visit www.aabplc.com


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